Interview with Sameer Ramesh, Cofounder The Climber, an education technology startup incubated at IIM-Bangalore.
By Shrunothra Ambati
Choosing a career path is a struggle felt by the youth of all countries. Parents tend to push their children toward particular career paths, and medicine, engineering, and information technology are some preferred options. The lack of options and examples of successful people in other career streams can lead to severe consequences for young people, as well as an entire country.
Sameer Ramesh, 23, is the Cofounder and Chief Product Officer of The Climber, an education technology startup incubated at IIM-Bangalore. A Harvard Project Fellow (HPAIR 2015) and a TEDx speaker, he has mentored hundreds of students from across India in entrepreneurship. Currently, he is working with various experts to bring experiential learning into online education. Recently, he spoke to Shrunothra Ambati. Here are the excerpts:
We know proper career guidance is a universal problem. Can you talk a little more about this problem in the Indian context?
High school and college students stand at a critical junction in their lives where they have to make important decisions about their future careers. Most students in India, however, do not have sufficient information or opportunities to explore the fields in which they are interested.
The Economist Intelligence Unit Report for the British Council (January 2014) found that the primary cause of unemployment of college graduates in Asian countries today is unemployability – the gap between skills students possess and skills employers demand. India is seeing its highest number of undergraduates enrolled in universities across the country, but the nation is sadly witnessing its highest undergraduate unemployment rate as well, due to this gap.
Additionally, due to underemployment, students end up in jobs that give them hardly any learning, growth or satisfaction, resulting in increased mental health issues and decreased self-esteem (UN SDSN Report 2017).
How are you trying to address this issue?
We need to provide information and assurance to students and their parents. Our primary product, MyCaptain, is an online mentoring platform where young achievers under 25, from across India, guide and mentor young students with the same career aspirations. Young professionals, who have succeeded in their field, mentor students who share the same interests.
We conduct 30-day online mentoring workshops that are designed to help students get experience and understand different opportunities within a field. Through a mix of engaging learning material, live interactive discussions, and guided hands-on activities, each workshop acts as a litmus test to help students determine if they want to pursue a field.
Getting students to engage in a new program is always tricky. What are the ways you are tackling this?
We have a campus ambassador program, where student ambassadors conduct campus and city-wide events to help their peers understand our message and purpose. We are present in over 500+ campuses across 20+ cities in India and have conducted over 20 major events.
One of the events we conduct is MyCaptain Connect. In a Connect event, young achievers and professionals from the city guide and have personal mentoring sessions.
We attract our students through our social media, making young leaders and influencers in different fields accessible to everyone. Our active community of mentees also helps in engaging students.
What kind of impact has your venture had so far?
Through MyCaptain alone, we have mentored over 20,000 students. From our Novel Writing and Creative Writing workshops, we have had 5 published novelists and 10+ published poets and writers. From our Business workshops we have seen over 10 startups been created and many national and international-level business plan competition winners. We have helped app developers and graphic designers get into top internships and start contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
As with any startup, you are bound to face a few road bumps. What are some of the challenges you currently face?
The biggest challenge is maintaining the quality of our programs while we scale the organization. We currently onboard 1500 -1600 new students each month, and ensuring that all of them have a memorable experience will be an important challenge for us to overcome.
Additionally, due to the online nature of our programs, it’s tricky for us to measure impact, regarding the extent to which a workshop contributes to a person’s decisions and what outcomes it results in.
Where do you see yourself in the next 3 to 5 years?
In the next 3 to 5 years, I see The Climber as India’s biggest impact driven education organization, present in schools across the country. We want to focus on our ground presence and create spaces where students can walk in to explore any passion – from beatboxing and painting to robotics and machine learning.
Since this is a problem also faced by students across the world, we plan to take MyCaptain international and have mentors from various countries.
What is your motivation for pursuing this venture?
I have faced this problem myself, and have been in situations where I wished I had the right mentor and the right information to help me make informed choices. The pressures students shoulder in their formative years of life is troubling. Someone should make education about curiosity and passion again, and I believe it should be us.
(Shrunothra is a junior at Wellesley College, majoring in Economics. She has an avid passion for reading and traveling to beautiful places in nature.)